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January 19, 2021

Recovery: "Salvator Mundi", stolen from the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore, is recovered by Italy's Polizia di Stato

A lesser-known 15th-century version of the contentious "Salvator Mundi", most likely painted towards the end of the second decade of the sixteenth century by a Lombard artist and a follower of Leonardo's style of the second Milanese period (1508-1513), has been recovered on Saturday by the Crimes Against the Heritage Section of the Naples Flying Squad of the Polizia di Stato.  The painting was discovered behind a wardrobe in a private residence in Ponticelli, an eastern suburb of Naples.  The 36-year-old owner of the apartment has been taken into custody for the offence of receiving stolen goods.  

The panel painting was probably originally purchased by Giovan Antonio Muscettola, advisor to Charles V and his ambassador to the papal court, while on diplomatic missions to the north, perhaps in Milan.  It was then likely originally placed in the family chapel inside the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in the heart of Naples in the lower Decumano known as Spaccanapoli.   

Some news reports indicate that the painting was stolen two years ago, however, the prosecutor of the Republic of Naples Giovanni Melillo, gave different details as to the mysterious disappearance of the painting during a meeting with the press at the Aula Vadalà of the IV Mobile Department of the State Police in Naples.

Prior to the artwork's theft, the "Salvator Mundi" was stored in the Hall of Sacred Furniture, in a church reliquary, protected by a large sturdy cabinet originally intended for the convent's treasure.  To access the painting, one would need a key, yet the latching mechanism to the cabinet showed no signs of forced entry and had not been opened since March 2020, at the start of the city's Covid-19 emergency.  

Mellilo believes that the theft was a targeted raid, saying "Whoever took it wanted that painting and it may be a plausible conjecture that it was a commissioned theft by an organization dedicated to the international art trade".  Pictured in the video below, you can see the painting, the outside of the reliquary and the "Salvator Mundi" with its simple frame, being hung, one hopes in a temporary location,  yesterday.  

The basilica where the painting hangs was built by the will of Charles II of Naples between 1283 and 1324 and contains one of the largest convent complexes in the city.   Built by the Angevins, San Domenico Maggiore served as the Aragonese royal church and its monastery was once the original seat of the University of Naples. where Saint Thomas Aquinas studied.  

It has not yet been ascertained if the owner of the apartment was the author of the Bascilia's theft.  According to Alfredo Fabbrocini of the Naples law enforcement division, the arrestee gave "little credible information on how he came into possession of the painting" and told the officers "I found it at a flea market."

By:  Lynda Albertson